Interviewee: Virginia Sneed Dixon
Interviewer: Laurel Sanders
Date: November 17, 2010
Virginia Sneed Dixon was born in 1919 on the Eastern Cherokee Indian Reservation, the Qualla Boundary. She attended a boarding school on the reservation for her elementary and high school education; when she graduated, she went to Knoxville, Tennessee to begin training as a nurse at a hospital school. She graduated, worked in a hospital in Bristol, Virginia, and then joined the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Dixon was sent to take a psychiatric course at a hospital on Long Island, and, in the interview, she discusses the public perception of mental illness in the 1940s and its treatment in the military. She then received orders to work at a small hospital in the mountains of China, and she developed malaria just as she was beginning this assignment. In 1945, Dixon went back to the United States and, briefly, left the Army to work in other settings and obtain further education from Western Carolina University. By the time the Korean War began, she had rejoined the Army, and her unit was sent to Korea. She worked at a field hospital, and her interview covers the challenges of daily life there as well as some aspects of military organization. In 1950, this hospital was evacuated under enemy fire, and she spent time in Seoul and Japan before requesting work in a neurosurgical unit. She discusses her reasons for wanting this assignment. She talks about patientâs injuries, her interactions with them, and methods of improvising medical care in the field.
In 1951, Dixon received orders to return to the United States. While stationed at Fort Benning, she met her husband, and she left the military when she became pregnant with her first child. Dixonâs interview centers on her military career, but she also covers other topics, such as her childhood and family, her recent past, her education, co-workersâ perceptions of her Cherokee identity, and her reactions to the death of patients when she first became a nurse. She touches on advances made in medicine over the course of her life and the changes in healthcare on the reservation.